Alumni Spotlight - Justin Greene
Justin Greene standing next to art work of a flower [View Image]Justin Greene is a May 2018 graduate of the Media, Art, and Text doctoral program, an interdisciplinary program in the VCU School of the Arts and the College of Humanities and Sciences. We asked Justin about his journey through graduate school and his current career path.
Describe your career path and current occupation.
Currently, I am a Visiting Assistant Professor of Rhetoric at Hampden-Sydney College. This position allows me to help students develop their writing, reading, and research skills in the small classes of a liberal arts college. Although the primary goal of my courses are to foster critical thinking and writing, I filter students' through an introductory study of media and popular culture. This allows me to teach my interests while meeting the demands of first-year writing, something I hope the students will find refreshing. I taught literature, textual analysis, and reading film while at VCU as a graduate teaching assistant and an adjunct instructor. I really enjoyed these opportunities because they allowed me to broaden my teaching experience beyond composition. It was also rewarding to work with some English and Art majors who were invested in the intersections between art, society/culture, and media. Before returning to VCU, I taught composition at Ferrum College and Virginia Western Community College. Eventually, like all newly minted Ph.D.s, I hope to capture that ever diminishing tenure-track position in academia. My education in the Media, Art, and Text program gave me the skills that would be valuable to many institutions, not only through my research but also my ability to teach an array of courses. Looking at media through an interdisciplinary lens is, I believe, highly valuable in today's information environment, and I find it important to make students aware of this in my classes.
How did you become interested in this field?
It's really a long story of trial and error. My MA was in literature, specifically early-twentieth-century American. I was seduced by the literary art of the Lost Generation, their exploits as expats, and their burgeoning cult of celebrity. After I graduated, I started teaching composition, something I had never done before, which was both frightening and rewarding because it showed me a different side of English departments and education. I developed an interest in popular culture and celebrity through thinking about a special topics section of composition while at Ferrum College. Possibly naively, I assumed students were deeply interested in celebrity. Oh, was I wrong... This did not deter my interest, but it did put a damper on it; I pushed it to the back burner as I began to seek out Ph.D. programs.
When I first applied to the MATX program, I was not accepted, but I did receive some constructive criticism of my personal statement. I had proposed studying narrative in some form. (The exactness has left me now, which is for the better.) My second application got me a spot in the incoming 2014 cohort. Even at this stage, I didn't plan on studying what I ended up writing on, and I felt very behind compared to others who seemed to have a clear vision from day one about what they wanted to do in the program. I began exploring celebrity with the encouragement of Dr. Noreen Barnes. She remembered my application that briefly mentioned my celebrity composition class, and she pushed me to follow that thread for my final paper in MATX 601: Texts and Textuality. I ended up writing an analysis of Salvador Dalí's celebrity and poetry.
At the same time, I was being guided by Dr. Jennifer Rhee to find a way to connect my interest with the "Break the Internet" Paper Magazine feature of Kim Kardashian with the historical images of the African Hottentot women in the nineteenth-century. The resulting paper, "The Return of the Hottentot: Kim Kardashian's Delving into the Archive of Objectification," became my first conference paper.
These professors' encouragement to explore celebrity early in the MATX program set me on my path. I truly linked my interests in celebrity with my background in literature in MATX 603, where Dr. Eric Garberson pushed me to consider the theoretical links between the socio-cultural identities of "the author" and "the celebrity." Here, I set up a framework that allowed me to move forward on what I wanted to do in my dissertation. This was furthered by my work with Dr. Richard Fine, who served as my dissertation director. Dr. Fine supported my ideas to look, not at the literary text proper, but the authorial identity, paratexts surrounding her/him as the text, and the media used to create and disseminate these to audiences. Without Dr. Fine's advice and pushback, I don't believe that my work would have ended up like it did; he had a huge role in shaping how I approach authorship, media, and performance.
A deeper interest in digital media, particularly social media, emerged while I was working on my dissertation. I became fascinated with how writers use new media platforms to expand their work, but more importantly their place within the literary world. At the same time, I see the audience and other cultural actors playing a larger role in the construction of authorial identity in digital spaces. As a result, I'm beginning preliminary research into social media and identity performance, which I hope I can tie into the work from my dissertation.
What do you like best about the type of work you do?
This is a loaded question - Kind of like asking a parent who's their favorite child. The blunt answer is I like all of it. Someone told me that I work in a "hot" field, but I don't see it that way. I like teaching; it gives me a chance to see students grow and develop their own knowledge practices. I'm there as a guide not an end-all-be-all, and I want all my students to take my instruction and synthesize it into their ways of thinking and writing. On the research and writing side, I love the fact that I study the contemporary media environment. It is challenging because it is ever-changing, but it is rewarding because it makes me stop and consider my own relationship to the media and cultural products I consume. Seeing the scholarship coming out in media studies and persona/celebrity studies is astounding, and it provides me comfort in knowing that I have colleagues around the world to turn to for deepening my own knowledge.
What was most memorable about your experiences in your VCU graduate program?
The connections made between members in my cohort, the faculty, and other members of the VCU community. These have allowed me to see some truly interesting work and pushed me to take my own work to higher standards.
What advice would you give current and prospective students about pursuing a graduate degree at VCU?
I would say to let yourself explore. I know that sounds counterintuitive to the streamline process of much of graduate study, but I believe that allowing yourself to move beyond your comfort zone and "desired" goal will give some surprising results. Branch out and try to take as many classes or independent studies with professors whose work you admire and find exciting; don't just stick to those you know. That is something I did, but I wish I would have done more. Time is short, even though you think you have an abundance of it. Getting to know faculty who not only work in your field but who are interested in your ideas is important because it give you outsider perspectives on how your work could be received in the larger academic community. Not only could these faculty members serve as committee members, they could be connections for collaboration after graduation. What this boils down to is to don't be locked in, no matter how much you feel pressured to be fully formed when entering your grad program.
Did you receive a graduate assistantship while completing your graduate degree at VCU?
Describe your experience and skills acquired during your assistantship.
Having taught for five years before entering the MATX program and being assigned a GTA, I had experience in the classroom. I was instructor of record for all the classes I taught as a GTA. Although I had prior teaching experience, tailoring my instruction to VCU's diverse student body presented a learning curve. I remember one class had English majors, art majors, and all the way to pre-med and hard sciences. Finding a way to bridge not only the diversity of socio-cultural backgrounds but also the diversity of interests in my students was a challenge at first. How do I get them to care about literature and culture as much as I do? It took a semester or two, but I believe I found a good balance in how I presented the material to students and my expectations.